Why is United Way involved in the COVID-19 conversation?
United Way is always on the front lines of community problems, both everyday problems and crises. In times of disaster, United Way supports first responders, puts out accurate information and leads long-term recovery. Present in 1,800 communities around the world, United Way has a unique pulse on people's needs. That's why government and public health officials have turned to United Way for our experience, network and capacity as communities struggle with COVID-19. With millions on lockdown, businesses and schools shuttered and unemployement spiking, it's harder than ever before for people to meet basic needs. Local United Ways around the world have mobilized in response, and in the U.S., 211, the go-to resource that connects millions to local resources, is fielding 200-400% more calls than usual.
How is United Way supporting this effort?
United Way Worldwide has established a COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund. This Fund will support communities around the world, helping people most in need access food, shelter, vital information and more, through local United Ways and the 211 network (in the U.S.). During normal times, 211 call specialists answer 12 million requests by phone, text, chat and email to connect people with locally-available food, housing, utility, health care resources and more. We're expecting to field as many calls in the next six months as we usually get in a year.
Why is a United Way Worldwide COVID-19 Fund needed?
Our corporate partners are asking us how they can help. United Way is the strategic philanthropic partner for 91 global companies, helping them invest in communities and engage their employees in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities.
Because we have a unique finger on the “pulse” of community needs, our corporate partners know that United Way Worldwide can direct those dollars to where they’re needed most, and that we’ll steward those donations responsibly. An example is the United for U.S. Fund that United Way Worldwide set up after the government shutdown last year, to help furloughed workers and contractors who were struggling to feed their families. Companies called us asking how to help, and we were able to channel more than $1.7 million to local communities in need (through local United Ways).
This is a health crisis. How will money help?
It’s as much an economic crisis as a health crisis. As businesses cut back or close, unemployment is spiking. Covering rent or utilities, getting food and finding basics like diapers is getting tougher. On top of that, closed schools mean that children from low-wage families might not be eating breakfast or lunch.
For more than 130 years, United Way has stepped up whenever communities need us. United Way is already on the front lines, mobilizing to provide vital services for those in need. United Way is doing what we've always done – tackling the underlying social problems community by community. But now, those problems are magnified. When shuttered schools mean children from low-wage families may not be eating breakfast and lunch, United Way is stepping up. When food pantries are overwhelmed, partially because people who used to donate are now in need of food, United Way is stepping up. And when people who’ve lost jobs need help with the basics, United Way connects them to available local resources. The need is great, and not expected to dimiinish anytime soon.
What is 211 doing in the U.S.?
In the U.S., state officials in 31 states have activated 211 and are directing the public to call or text with COVID-19 questions and for general assistance. State and local 211 agencies are working closely with public health and emergency management officials and non-profit partners to provide up-to-date information to the public and connect people in need to services that are still available and open.
Common questions have shifted from health questions -- where and how to get tested, symptoms and clarification about the spread of the virus, fact-checking that there are no vaccines available -- to economic quetstions. People are calling about where to find food, financial assistance and how to make the rent or keep the lights on. As more people lose wages or jobs, communities are looking to United Way for help. In many communities, school officials are coordinating with United Way to figure out how to help educate children and how to ensure they have helalthy meals.
What are local United Ways doing?
United Way Worldwide’s Fund will be supporting local United Ways and any local emergency funds that may be set up by local United Ways, like United Way of Greater King County in Seattle has already done.
Working with the Seattle Foundation, United Way of King County is providing one-time operating grants to fund organizations that serve residents without health insurance and/or access to sick days; residents with limited English language proficiency; healthcare and gig economy workers; and communities of color. The first phase of these rapid-response grants will address the economic impact of reduced and lost work due to the coronavirus outbreak; immediate needs of economically vulnerable populations caused by closures and cancellations related to COVID-19; and increased demand for medical information and support.
It’s not just large United Ways that are stepping up. United Way of Knox County in Galesburg, Illinois is providing free meals to local children while local schools are closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. These services are meant to combat food insecurity and ensure any student, but especially those from low-wage families, have access to meals. Although especially critical now, providing meal service is not new for staff and volunteers of United Way. As part of their afterschool at-risk supper program, they served 4,000 meals to children in February alone.
Just as the pandemic is global, so is United Way’s response. In many countries, the focus is on clean water, food, education and hygiene needs. In Korea, United Way and the Community Chest of Korea are supporting healthcare workers on the front line, low-income households, and disinfecting communal facilities and public areas. In India, United Ways are focused on hospitals -- making sure health care workers have protective equipment. In Mexico, United Way is supporting families with hygiene kits and educational kits, to ensure children can keep learning and have what they need to stay healthy. United Way Spain and Save the Children have launched a campaign to support 600 under-served families who are at particular risk.
Find a list of local United Ways and their activities here.
Where will the money go?
United Way Worldwide invests all donations in the mission. Ninety-five percent of all donations will serve the most vulnerable. That might mean emergency food water, hygiene supplies, or helping people cover rent or utilities after losing wages or jobs. Some local United Ways have already set up local pandemic funds. But for many communities, the national fund will be the only such support. It will be administered by United Way Worldwide.
Will there be donor reports?
Yes. United Way Worldwide always creates detailed reports that lay out where the donations to our emergency funds go.
Is the Fund global?
Yes, you can choose to donate to communities most in need internationally or in the U.S. United Way steps up wherever our communities need us. We're helping communities affected by COVID-19 all over the world. In Japan, United Way (through its partner, the Central Community Chest of Japan) is aiding families during mandatory school closures by providing meals, learning groups, stocked food banks, and child care for single-parent households. In Korea, United Way and the Community Chest of Korea are supporting healthcare workers on the front line, low-income households, and disinfecting communal facilities and public areas.
There are two ways to donate internationally for non-coronavirus support. Companies can use United Way Worldwide’s United Way Worldwide’s International Donor Advised Giving service, which helps navigate the complexity of international charitable giving rules and regulations that differ by country. Individuals who want to give less than $5,000 overseas can use our International Support Fund. So far, we've helped companies and individuals invest $400 million in 100 countries through these services. United Way Worldwide handles all the legal due diligence and compliance, manages grants and helps companies invest in vetted nonprofits (not necessarily local United Ways) that meet their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) goals.
What else is United Way Worldwide doing?
United Way has also advocated for the U.S. government to provide adequate stimulus funding so charities doing life-saving work can keep their doors open as resources dwindle. As our President and CEO Brian Gallagher put it, “nonprofits across the United States and the world are working 24 hours a day to do everything, including getting food into needy hands, coordinating relief efforts and pushing government and business leaders for greater support. People are rising to the occasion everywhere.”
United Way is uniquely well-positioned to understand and lead community mobilization. We’ve been responding to society’s most pressing problems for more than 130 years, and we’re up for the challenge.